Will Pearl Harbor Stir Anti-Asian Feelings?

George Yuzawa worries that Friday's opening of the movie Pearl Harbor could rekindle the anti-Asian sentiment that followed the bombing nearly 60 years ago.

"I think it's going to create a lot of animosity, not only against the Japanese but anyone who has an Asian face," said the retired Dumont, N.J., florist, one of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to relocation camps after the attack.

Yuzawa, 86, spent almost two years in a relocation camp in Colorado before volunteering for the Army and serving in military intelligence.

Asian-Americans across the nation have expressed similar concerns in recent days, not so much for the film's depiction of the Japanese but because of its focus on the attack that killed 2,400 Americans.

The film's release comes at a time when Asian-Americans are increasingly sensitive about their image, after the Wen Ho Lee spy case and the standoff with China over the downing of the U.S. surveillance plane.

"There are a certain amount of people who look at Asian-Americans as foreigners and not as Americans," said Chris Komia, spokesman for the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles.

The danger of a film like Pearl Harbor is that it could associate the events of Dec. 7, 1941, with Asian-Americans in the country today, said June Arima Schumann, executive director of the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, which houses historical records of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Others, however, are more optimistic, believing Americans today realize the mistake of sending Japanese-Americans to wartime camps and stripping them of their citizenship rights.

"There are some hardheaded people who will believe what they want to believe" about other races, said retired Tech. Sgt. Don Oka, 81, a World War II veteran from Los Angeles. "But I have faith in the American people, and I don't think we'll ever be treated unfairly again. Not in this country."

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii said Pearl Harbor, by Disney's Touchstone Pictures, might cause some to reflect negatively on Japanese-Americans but still urged people to see it. He said the film could serve as a reminder of the Japanese-Americans who fought for the Allies during World War II.

Inouye lost his right arm in battle while serving as a first lieutenant with the mostly Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy.

Some groups expressed concern about the movie even before it began generating its recent wave of publicity.

John Tateishi, national director of the San Francisco-based Japanese American Citizens League, met with producer Jerry Bruckheimer during filming and recommended changes.

Some of his suggestions were followed, including casting an Asian to play a doctor who tries to help wounded American sailors. But, he said, producers left in one scene he deemed objectionable showing a Japanese-American dentist getting a suspicious telephone call a day before the attack.

Tateishi, who was sent to California's Manzanar internment camp as a child, said he fears the scene will cause people to think of Japanese-Americans as spies during World War II and that their internment was justified.

Disney officials said they tried to be sensitive in their portrayal of Japanese-Americans.

"I think we took the appropriate steps in developing this film to address the issue," Disney spokeswoman Andrea Marozas said.

She declined to comment about concerns that the film could generate anti-Asian sentiment.

For 77-year-old Midori Shimanouchi Lederer, however, the concerns are very real.

Lederer was a college student in California when she was sent to a relocation camp in Utah after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"I remember the hostility during the war and it was terrible," said Lederer, president of a Japanese-American social service agency in New York. "I haven't gotten over it yet at this old age."